UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell temporarily steps aside after leukemia diagnosis

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2013 

— Longtime UNC-Chapel Hill women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell will be “temporarily stepping away” from coaching after doctors recently diagnosed her with leukemia, the school announced Monday.

Hatchell, 61, was inducted last month into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. She will receive treatment at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I have the utmost confidence in my doctors,” Hatchell said in a statement. “There is a reason why the North Carolina Cancer Hospital ranks as one of the top cancer facilities in the nation.”

Hatchell is among the most successful women’s basketball coaches in history. Her 908 victories – 636 of which have come during her 27 seasons at UNC – rank second all-time, only behind Pat Summit, the former Tennessee coach who retired in 2012 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Hatchell, whose overall record is 908-321, is one of three women’s basketball coaches who have won at least 900 games. At UNC, she is 636-241, and she guided the Tar Heels to a national championship in 1994. Her UNC teams have also won the ACC tournament eight times.

“Sylvia has our complete support and is in our thoughts and prayers for a full recovery,” UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “Sylvia is a fighter and her enduring spirit will aid her greatly. Her staff and players, family and members of the athletics and university community will do what we can to bolster those efforts.”

During Hatchell’s absence, Andrew Calder, a longtime assistant coach, will lead the team. Like Hatchell, Calder is in his 28th year with the UNC women’s basketball team.

Throughout her years at UNC, Hatchell has been an outspoken supporter of the Lineberger Cancer Center.

“Coach Hatchell has been a tireless ambassador for our cancer center for the last 15 years,” Dr. Shelley Earp, director of the Lineberger Cancer Center, said in a statement. “She has helped us in countless ways. Now it is our turn to be there for her with the best care and our team’s full support.”

Dr. Pete Voorhees, a medical oncologist at the Lineberger Cancer Center, will lead the team of doctors in charge of Hatchell’s treatment. Voorhees in a statement said Hatchell “remains strong and in good spirits.”

“She is physically and mentally tough, and this will serve her well on her journey,” Vorhees said. “We are optimistic that she will do well.”

Hatchell in her statement said she would “remain very much involved” with her team during her absence.

“(I) expect to return to my sideline responsibilities as soon as possible,” she said. “My veteran staff and team will be well prepared and meet any challenges until my return. Don’t forget I am a Tar Heel woman!”

Hatchell, who in 2004 was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, arrived at UNC in 1986. Before that, she served for 11 seasons as the head women’s basketball coach at Francis Marion, where she led the Lady Patriots to two national championships, the 1982 AIAW Division II national title and the 1986 NAIA championship.

Hatchell’s leave after being diagnosed with leukemia comes about a year after Roy Williams, the UNC men’s basketball coach, endured his own cancer scare. Doctors last year found tumors on both of Williams’ kidneys, but they were benign.

Williams in a statement said he was “heartbroken” for Hatchell and her family, which includes her husband, Sammy, and her son, Van, a recent UNC graduate.

“I know how much Sylvia loves to coach and compete with her team so any time that she misses will be difficult,” Williams said in his statement. “But she’s tough and she will fight this with everything she has. All of us at Carolina and all of her friends in the coaching community will support her 100 percent in this fight.”

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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